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The historical paradox of Canberra's hazardous air

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In these shocking times Canberra (Australia's federal capital city and this columnist's home) is sometimes sporting the much-reported, mask-requiring "worst air in the world".

Thick smoke haze blanketing Canberra on New Year's Day 2020. Picture: Megan Dingwall.

What is making this so newsworthy is the fact that Canberra's air (at this unnerving time polluted with the smoke of terrible bushfires) is usually so sparklingly clean and clear.

For First World Canberra to suddenly have air even more unbreathably awful than it regularly is in some of the world's always-wheezing cities is a weird, newsworthy oddity.

And when you know a little history it is, too, a poignant and paradoxical oddity.

Your columnist is an historian of how the spot where Canberra has arisen was chosen* from a competitive field of umpteen spots vying to be the site of the federal capital city. This place's air, sparklingly, invigoratingly clean and crystal-clear when parties of deeply-impressed federal politicians inspected it on August 13, 1906, and then again on August 23, 1907, helped get this spot the federal capital city guernsey.

And when the discerning ACT government hired me (ahead of this city's 2013 centenary) to research and write up........

© Canberra Times